WASHINGTON – Braves prospect Luiz Gohara pitched in his second major league game Wednesday and distinguished himself for six innings against the National League East champions and one of baseball’s most accomplished pitchers, Max Scherzer.
And then things really got interesting for the Braves, who broke open a tie game with six runs including a Matt Kemp grand slam in the seventh inning of an 8-2 win at Nationals Park, handing Scherzer one of his worst losses and earning Gohara his first major league win.
Not bad for a 21-year-old who started the season in Single-A.
Gohara, who got three promotions this season – to Double-A in May, Triple-A in July and the majors last week – limited the Nationals to six hits and two runs (one earned) in six innings with no walks and six strikeouts.
“It feels really good,” said Gohara, the fifth Brazilian to play in the major leagues. “It’s really fun to have my first win in the big leagues. To get the win against him was something really big for me. I always wanted to pitch against the Nationals and have him pitching for the other side.”
Kemp said Gohara “did a great job. He has an electric arm. It’s hard to hit lefties throwing 97, 98 (mph). I think he topped out at 99 today. He has a really good arm and he’s young, so it’s cool to see that.”
The stocky left-hander was indeed impressive against a Nationals team that was looking to bounce back after getting blanked 8-0 by Julio Teheran and reliever Luke Jackson in Tuesday’s series opener.
Instead, the Braves scored eight for a second night in a row, clinched a series win and improved to 8-7 against Washington this season including 6-3 at Nationals Park. This after going 9-29 against them during the 2016-2016 seasons including 1-19 at Nationals Park.
The Braves have won six of their past seven games since dropping five of six, and they’re getting big contributions from plenty of rookies. And in the past two nights at Nationals Park, they pounded two starters, Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez, who rank among the NL’s top five in ERA.
“We beat two really good pitchers, two of the best pitchers in the National League,” Kemp said. “We’re trying to finish strong.”
After Scherzer’s command abandoned him at the start of the seventh inning – he walked rookie Lane Adams, pinch-hitter Jace Peterson and rookie Ozzie Albies consecutively to start the inning — manager Dusty Baker left him in at 114 pitches to face Dansby Swanson, who lined a bases-loaded, two-run single to left field to give the Braves a 4-2 lead.
“It started with Lane, then Petey came up and was able to work that pinch-hit walk, which especially against a guy like that is tough,” Swanson said. “And Ozzie, he never really gave him a good pitch to try to bunt and ended up working a walk. And then I just happened to get the hit.
“It’s always a battle every time you face (Scherzer), and tonight we just happened to get the best of him.”
Scherzer then walked Freddie Freeman intentionally to reload the bases before handing the ball to reliever Brandon Kintzler, whose first pitch was powered to the left-field seats by Kemp for his seventh grand slam and first since 2011.
“I’m just trying to get a deep fly ball, put something into play to get that run in front third base,” said Kemp, who has eight hits in his past 10 games, four of which were home runs. “Left a slider up, put a good swing on it, hit it out.”
All but one of those six runs in the seventh inning were charged to Scherzer, who pitched six-plus innings and was charged with seven hits and seasons-highs of seven runs and six walks, the most runs he allowed since giving up seven runs in five innings against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 6, 2016.
Adams was 3-for-4 with a walk, a triple and two runs scored, and Albies had two walks and an RBI single from the leadoff spot in place of Ender Inciarte, who jammed a thumb during Tuesday’s win.
Adams tripled and scored on Albies’ single in the fifth to tie the score, 1-1, and the Braves took the lead in the sixth when Kemp walked and scored on a Tyler Flowers’ two-out double.
Gohara, who features a 96-98 mph fastball, quality slider and improving change-up, has already shown enough in two starts to put himself among the early favorites to land a spot in the Braves rotation at spring training.
He walked four in four innings of his debut Wednesday in at near-empty SunTrust Park in the first game of a doubleheader and admitted afterward that he had a bit too much adrenaline pumping at the outset of the game.
But in his second start, he issued no walks all night, fired 52 strikes in 71 efficient pitches, and struck out five batters during a stretch of 11 consecutive batters retired including perfect innings in the third, fourth and fifth.
“The first start I had all the excitement, so I settled down,” Gohara said. “No more (over) excited here, just go out there and compete.”
The Nationals got a run in the first after Trea Turner led off with an infield single, stole second – his 40th stolen base – and scored on Anthony Rendon’s one-out RBI double.
Gohara also gave up a leadoff single in the second inning to Michael Taylor, then picked him off at first base for the first out. That saved a run when Jayson Werth followed with a fly ball to the left-field warning track that Kemp got turned around on and misplayed into a double.
Gohara got out of that tight spot by striking out Matt Wieters and Scherzer — a pitcher, yes, but one who has 10 hits including a homer this season. That began the stretch of 11 consecutive batters retired by Gohara, with the Nationals not putting another runner on base until Turner’s leadoff single in the sixth inning.
“The kid gets locked in and really competes,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Gohara. “And that’s what I heard about him from the guys that played with him, the guys that had him and have been around him. They say once he gets out there he’s trying to beat you. That’s legit stuff right there, too.”
A mistake by Gohara on an errant pickoff throw to first base allowed Turner to race to third base with no outs, and he scored the tying run on Wilmer Difo’s single before Gohara retired the next two batters on a fly-out and a double-play grounder from Ryan Zimmerman.
That set the stage for the Braves’ huge seventh inning against Scherzer, who came into Wednesday’s game with a majors-leading .175 opponents’ average and the NL’s second-lowest ERA (2.32) among starters.
Scherzer was 10-2 with a 1.97 ERA, .162 opponents’ average and 11 double-digit strikeout totals in his past 18 starts before Wednesday, when he had almost as many walks (six) as strikeouts (seven), finishing one walk off his career high.